Up to one million fish have died along a 40-kilometre stretch of the Darling River after flow rates dropped, due to a massive depletion of the reserves that keeps the system working.
The Darling forms a vital part of the Murray-Darling basin, which is crucial for agriculture in regional and urban areas of four states and one territory. Recent decades have seen water pulled from the system to irrigate water-hungry cotton and rice, something scientists have warned was unsustainable on the world’s driest populated continent.
A joint effort between state, territory and federal governments set aside $13 billion for water management in the region. But ‘The Basin Plan’ has failed catastrophically. It’s little wonder when 11,000 of the entire systems 30,000 gigalitres of water was removed for cotton growing. This at a time when the region suffers under drought conditions.
The New South Wales water ombudsman flagged issues in the Murray-Darling in their last four reports, highlighting flagrant water mismanagement by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).
Many, including Liberal-National Coalition MP Barnaby Joyce, have sought to hide MDBA mismanagement behind the smokescreen of drought conditions. However, the Royal Commission and others point not to the drought, but to the systematic corruption and abuse of water in the region as the root cause of the catastrophe.
It is clear that those in power prefer to prioritise short-term profit over long term sustainability. Water in the Murray-Darling is collected in dams and traded for profit to the tune of $2 billion per year!
There is a much better way to utilise the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin. A democratic socialist plan would prioritise job creation, food security and restoration of the Murray-Darling.
Useful crops, which are suitable for sustainable agriculture could replace cotton and rice. The resources to set this up would not be raised by taxing local workers and farmers, but by taking control of the companies that have perpetrated these crimes in their pursuit of profit.
By Eóin Dawson